Oregon House approves bill banning conversion therapy on minors

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

SALEM, Ore. — The Oregon House voted Tuesday to outlaw a therapy that purports to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of young people, with several lawmakers arguing the practice has been discredited and can cause irreparable mental and emotional damage.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

Oregon state capitol in Salem.

The bill would make it illegal for social workers or licensed mental health professionals such as psychologists or psychiatrists to practice what’s called conversion therapy on children younger than 18. The bill is backed by Basic Rights Oregon, a gay and transgender advocacy group.

Proponents of the measure said the therapy can lead to anxiety, depression and destructive behaviors in children. Groups such as the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association have also come out against the therapy.

“Conversion therapy itself can cause incredible emotional and mental trauma to people, particularly young people in the process of coming to terms with their sexual identities,” said Rep. Knute Buehler, a Bend Republican who voted for the measure.

It would not prohibit counseling for a minor considering a gender transition, and it wouldn’t curtail rights to free speech or religious expression, said Rep. Rob Nosse, a Portland Democrat.

Other lawmakers said they thought the bill should include an “opt-in” option for youths who want to pursue the treatment.

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“It’s a normal, common practice that when people come in they can request from their therapist what sort of therapy they want to receive. I felt like there should be some sort of opt-in option for youth and empower them in that client-centered therapy,” said Rep. Duane Stark, a Republican from Grants Pass who voted against the proposal.

The measure passed 41-18 and goes to the Senate.

Laws banning the therapy are on the books in New Jersey and California, and advocates say bills have been introduced in about two dozen more states. The District of Columbia recently approved a similar measure.

Federal appeals courts have upheld the New Jersey and California laws.

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